Way back in 1976 my very first job with Manitoba Agriculture was a three-month contract, to do a review of the province’s Crown land leasing program.
It was a steep learning curve for me at the end of which I concluded that the then existing system was:
a) Expensive to administer;
b) Undervalued the province’s land resource; and
c) Provided little incentive for improved productivity.
The suggestion was that a system based on competitive tendering would address all three issues.
The report went in to the deputy minister at the time, and all went quiet. After a couple of weeks I was summoned to the Big House, thanked for my input, and politely told that no changes were contemplated in the near term. My sense was that this was just too much of a political hot potato.
Forty-plus years on, and it’s déjà vu all over again. The reality is that change in this program was long overdue. The right of first refusal should allay some producers’ fears. If the pressure on competitive lease rates is upward, it demonstrates that they were formerly underpriced. If the industry hits a prolonged downturn those rates could presumably also decline. It’s difficult to see land going underutilized.
I sympathize with the young and beginning ranchers. Nobody said it would be easy. Starting any kind of farming venture today from scratch, without major family support, is no small challenge. That part at least was a whole lot different 40 years ago!